Songs I love

I started recording this series of covers about two years ago with the idea of sharing versions of songs that have inspired me over the years. Some of the songs are by known songwriters and some are traditionals. I’ll be recording a new one every month and uploading them up as I go along. All the songs are downloadable for free in exchange of your email, so you can be alerted of any updates directly in your mailbox.
I’ll be recording in my home studio but the lo-finess’ll be part of the process. For the most part, it’ll be just a case of putting a mike in front of a guitar or any other instrument that comes to hand with another for the voice and pressing record with a quick mix afterwards.”
I hope you’ll enjoy these tributes to the songs and songwriters I love.



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I first heard this song on my favourite Pentangle album ´Solomon’s seal’. I read later that it was Anne Brigg´s beautiful a cappella version recorded in 1971 that brought this jewel of a song to wider acclaim. Like much of the great English folk canon, this early C19th song blends a delicate and haunting melody with some stunning poetry.
My friend, the South African guitarist and songwriter Nibs van der Spuy introduced me to Dick Gaughan’s masterpiece ‘Handful of Earth’ while we were on tour in South Africa a few years ago. If I had to pick my favourite version of The snows they melt the soonest, it would doubtless be Gaughan’s wonderfully intense and amost spoken rendition.
I live in the Cevennes in Southern France and during the Summer I organize acoustic concerts in the region. For each show, I share the stage with a different artist and friend. After Dawn Landes in May and Vincent Segal in June, I invited Nibs for July’s concert in the Romanesque chapel of Sainte Croix de Caderle. I took advantage of him staying for a couple of days at our home to record a version of The snows they melt the soonest, a song we both love!


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As a guitarist and a songwriter I’ve been been influenced by many different styles of traditional folk music from around the world. Two of the main schools of influence through which I eventually found my own way of writing were the folk music traditions of England, Scotland and Ireland and those of West Africa, more specifically Mali. In the early nineties, I came across the music of Martin Carthy and Davey Graham at around the same time that I discovered the Malian greats, Boubacar Traore and Ali Farka Toure. As incongruous as it might be to compare the musical equivalent of a frosty winter morning on an English moor with that of sweltering afternoon on the Niger Delta, I’ve always felt there were endless points of comparison between the two worlds. I began my side project The River, with the Malian master N’goni player, Badje Tounkara and French guitarist Seb Martel in order to deepen this profoundly complementary dialogue.

Being the descendant of Italian, Irish, Ashkenazi and Gypsy immigrants, I don’t have a big claim to represent British or Irish Folk traditions any more than I do those of West Africa but what I do feel I can stake a claim to is the right to blend styles just as my blood has been blended with the trace of so many different languages. I’ve written several songs both for my own albums and for The River that explore the dialogue between northern European Folk and West African traditions but I wanted for the ongoing Vol II of Songs I love to find a cover that I could play with in the same way. Much has been made of the links between Mississippi blues and Mali but I find the ties between certain aspects of British and Irish and Malian folk to be just as strong. Martin Carthy is one of my all time favorite guitar players, I played Badje Tounkara his version of Cold haily, windy night and Badje said.”On dirait la musique de chez nous” “It sounds like music from my country”

With Kitty I’ll go is a wonderful song that I first heard sung by the extraordinary Norma Waterson. I fell in love with it when I discovered Waterson Carthy’s first album. Reading Martin Carthy’s original liner notes, I found out that it was an Irish song and that there is also a version in Gaelic. I live in the hills of the Cevennes, in a land that I left London for in order to ‘ramble over the mountains wild.’ so singing these wonderful words feels like a perfect match!

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This summer, Sylvie Lewis and Dawn Landes came to visit me at my home; Sylvie had written to me a few weeks earlier to say that she and Dawn were passing through en route to Spain and would love to meet up and hang out for a day. At that time, I was in the middle of proof reading the last version of the Songs I Love book before sending it off to the printers but it felt like as good a time as any to start on the next installment of the series.
Dawn and Sylvie had been singing ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’ by Woody Guthrie during their summer tour and although we initially thought about doing that one, it inspired me to get out some old Lead Belly vinyls. Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly who played and recorded together were undoubtedly among the greatest and most prolific American songwriters of all time and both of these unique writers documented their age in the most profound way, carrying the torch for the disenfranchised and the poor.
Their songs, like the great American literature of the time such as Steinbeck’s ‘The grapes of wrath,’ stand as pillars of 20th century American culture; almost everything I hear today pales in significance compared with the power of these two songwriting giants.

In the end I suggested to Dawn and Sylvie we record a song Lead Belly used to sing, ‘There’s a man going round taking names’. I’ve always loved this song although I’ve never quite grasped the meaning of the lyrics. There’s such a power to the words ‘there’s a man going round taking names’ – both profound and slightly sinister, my sense is that it refers to being marked out for hell or heaven according to our actions. (If anyone knows the significance and meaning of this song, please let me know!)
It was a joy to sing it with Dawn and Sylvie in one take, sitting around one microphone, the window open and the birds joining in outside.
Vol 2 of Songs I Love is underway!

Buy collector book/cd ‘Songs I Love’ here : Beating Drum shop

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This miraculous song is another firm favourite of mine. It transcends and touches the depths of essential truth. The song is based on a prayer chanted in Hebrew on the day of Atonement, the day one has to stand solemnly before the judge. ‘Who by Fire’, like the prayer that inspired it, solemnly calls out the different ways we might die, some by fire, some by water, some by slow decay. Cohen adds his poetic wit to the chant with the line at the end of every verse: ‘Who shall I say is calling?’

I realised, after having written it, that my song, ‘Time of Nought’, was inspired by this extraordinary song and had I never heard ‘Who by Fire’ I most certainly would not have written it. I read that Leonard Cohen described his songs as muffled prayers; sometimes I think of my songs as religious music for non-believers so perhaps we have a little something in common, at the very least in the way a pupil might look up to his master.

Artwork : portrait of Leonard Cohen by Piers Faccini
Buy collector book/cd ‘Songs I Love’ here : Beating Drum shop

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Songs I love, the book


Many of you are aware of this project already as you’ve been faithfully downloading the covers that I’ve recorded and posted over the last three years. The idea behind ‘Songs I Love’ began as a way to interact with the people that follow my music on a level that wasn’t purely reliant on an album release, I began giving away a cover every two months or so back in 2010 and with it I would post the story behind my choice of song.

Back in the days when I was signed and before I started my own label Beating Drum, I found it frustrating that the only object I could propose was an album of around twelve songs every two or three years. Being free now to make the creative decisions around what kind of object to make, I wanted to propose something a little different using the seventeen songs that I’ve recorded so far for this cover series.

I’m convinced that music lovers around the world are hungry for new and exciting ways to present music. With downloading and streaming and fewer people buying songs in any kind of physical form, I wanted to push the boat out with my label Beating Drum and present music in an original and beautiful package that brings music, Art and writing together in one object. Using cut-up paper, I painstakingly made portraits of all the songwriters that I’ve covered in the series and for the book I edited the original text that I’d presented with each download from my website, making the text worthy of the kind of beautiful object that we wanted to present. Because many of you already have the covers as mp3 downloads, I wanted to make sure for those of you that buy the book, that the music would be treated with the same level of care and love as the book and images. I worked back into the original mixes to improve them and the songs were then mastered by Francois Fanelli.




The book was designed by Olivier Carrie aka Uncle O who I’ve been working with since the album Two Grains of Sand, I provided the artwork and images and he came up with the design concept and typeface with which to put it all together. Because words are not enough to describe all things visual, I asked my friend Mr Cup to take some photos of the book/cd so that you can see for yourselves what kind of love and attention to detail that we’ve given our little red book!



On my shop, you will find that we’ve presented the book either on its own or in a package with the new album ‘Between Dogs & Wolves’. The book can be bought with the cd version of the album or with our beautiful gatefold vinyl version of the album which also contains a cd inside. I really hope you will love this book/cd as much as we loved making it, your feedback on this will also help me determine for the future, what kind of other exciting objects we can invent the next time we bring music to you!







Springsteen’s album ‘Nebraska’ was originally intended for use as demos of songs he intended to record with the E Street Band but he ended up releasing them in their unpolished state in 1982. This collection of songs in the form of poetic portraits of American blue collar life is a rough diamond that shines undimmed through the dust and dirt it portrays. Rarely has the voice, the writing and the performance of a songwriter been so directly put down to tape in such undiluted and untamed a manner. For this and for its raw poetry and beauty, this album is a true gem and Springsteen’s jewel in the crown.

The song ‘Statetrooper’ has an unrelenting driving energy but the guitar riff, like the protagonist in his night-drive frenzy, literally goes nowhere. It plays, unchanging from beginning to end, with only the occasional one string and one note variation in the chord. It’s pure blues, original blues, not ‘I woke up this morning’ cliche blues but the deep night-blue of Charley Patton and Bukka White and the raw trance boogie of John Lee Hooker’s very first recordings. It’s the epic black magic dance of word and rhythm, the perfect marriage of music and text. With the picture, the character and the scene set, the narrator slowly unravels under ‘the refineries glow” before he’s “delivered” up to the night “where the great black rivers flow’. Songwriting doesn’t get much better than this.

I’ve played it so many times live but recording it I wanted to slow it down slightly in order to accentuate the power of the words and build up a trance-like intensity with guitars, xylophones and a harmonium with some distant howling backing vocals thrown in for good measure.

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